The Cistercian Order administered the Pelplin land for almost six centuries. The Grey Monks, as they were formerly referred to, built a magnificent monastery, thanks to an endowment from Duke Mestwin II in 1274, who presented them with Pelplin and the land among the Rivers Wierzyca, Janka and Węgiermuca. The order, led by Abbott Werner, arrived here from Mecklenburg two years later.
Legend has it that the location for the construction of the monastery was chosen by a donkey released from the temporary home of the Podgródki Cistercians. When he reached Pelplin, he let out a bray and was not about to go any further. The monks, enchanted with the landscape of the beautiful valley of Wierzyca, decided to stay here. Supposedly, Abbott Werner said “Bonum Est nos hic esse”, meaning “It is good for us to be here”.
The monks certainly found the earlier developments – their earliest traces originate from the turn of the 14th Century.
When the Cistercians were building the monumental temple on the Wierzyca on the plane of the Latin cross, the Devil awaiting the sinful souls became very angry. Seeing the unique beauty of the building built to praise the God Almighty, Satan craved its destruction and the oppression of the Grey Monks. In the dark of night, he wandered around Kociewie, searching for a stone big enough to destroy the cathedral. When he was near the completion of his evil plan, he was surprised by the dawn. At the first crow of the rooster, his dark power had abandoned him and the enormous stone he had carried with such difficulty fell into the Wierzyca and settled on the bed, where it remains to this day.
During the two centuries of the Pelplin temple’s construction, many other events took place, which could have been caused by the Devil’s envy. This is presented in the Pelplin Chronicle. Despite the numerous adversities, the construction was completed with the use of innovative technical equipment. The boardwalk lift, winches and balance beams – used to elevate the wooden elements of the roof truss – still arouse the unanimous admiration of the visitors to the cathedral’s attics. The date of completion is assumed as the year 1557, which saw the installation of the last vaults.
From the south, the monastery was added to the temple. It had wings concentrated around the cloisters surrounding the rectangular garth (internal garden). The “chapel in front of the gate” was built outside the monastic walls during the beginning of the 14th Century. It was intended for converses and the secular public (today, it is the Corpus Christi Chapel). The 14th Century also saw the creation of the beautiful utility buildings, since the Pelplin Abbey successively received land grants from Polish Dukes and Kings Przemyslaus, Wenceslaus II, Wenceslaus III and Władysław the Elbow-high.
The monastery developed the written culture, including the local scriptorium. It successively expanded the monastic book collection, a large part of which has been preserved to this day in the Diocese Library. The Abbey was devastated by Hussite attacks (1433) and plundered several times during the thirteen- year war (1454-1466) and in the 17th Century during the wars between Poland and Sweden. However, this was the time of the intensive development of the Abbey, made possible mainly by numerous foundations.
In 1823, King Frederick William III of Prussia issued a decree on the abbey’s treasury. The Cistercian heritage was developed by the Chełmno Diocese, of which Pelplin became the capital (since 1992, the Pelplin Diocese).